By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 14, 2008
Today's hostile critics of the Roman Catholic Church tend to focus their attacks on the Church's stand vis-a-vis the Sexual Revolution. The Church's condemnation of pornography and solipsistic sexual gratification; of premarital intercourse; of homosexuality; of contraception and abortion; of in vitro fertilization; and of human embryonic stem cell experimentation is cited as evidence that the Church is hopelessly out of date. After all, doesn't our entire national cultural elite give its seal of approval to this whole program of behaviour? Ask practically anyone at MSNBC! So why won't the Catholic Church get on board, join the crowd, go with the flow, etc.? The reason is that Christ's Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of Truth who will guide the Church forever to the whole truth'"[in matters that relate to salvation]. (John, passim, chapters 14, 15 and 16). This was Christ's promise at the Last Supper, and Christ, the Omniscient and Almighty Son of God, keeps His promises, even as Satan, "the liar and murderer from the beginning" [John 8:44], with astute but specious reasoning will seek until the end of time to turn us away from Christ, away from the Holy Spirit, away from the truth that saves. In shaping the thinking of "the world" Satan is strikingly successful-he "rules this world of darkness" (Ephesians 6:12)-but against the Church "the gates of hell will not prevail!" [Matthew 16:18].
Sometimes scientific facts upset the devil's schemes. For example, a recent report on a major project involving the injection of embryonic stem cells into living subjects of the same species (mice) revealed that the hosts' immune systems consistently and decisively rejected these cells. Doubt is thus cast on the supposition that any therapeutic benefit can ever be derived from embryonic (as contrasted with adult) stem cells. Coming on the heels of consistent success in enterprises using adult stem cells, while in projects using (and destroying) human embryos the score thus far is zero, this new report undercuts the whole rationale for research using human embryos, while it provides empirical reinforcement to the Church's opposition to a form of research that is equatable with murder. That's right-murder! Given that the entire DNA code needed for the development of a human baby is already present in the embryo, all that needs to be supplied for such development to take place is nourishment and a safe environment. The embryo is already a living member of the species homo sapiens. The teaching of the Church comports with authentic science.
So, too, the Church's opposition to in vitro fertilization seems all the more reasonable today in view of the attention that is currently being paid to the anxiety experienced by many who have participated in this procedure and who are now faced with the dilemma of what to do with the embryos that remain. A recent report (December 4th) in the New York Times throws a spotlight on this growing problem.
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Parents Torn over Extra Frozen Embryos from Fertility Procedures
By Denise Grady
New York Times of Thursday, December 4, 2008
For nearly 15 years, Kim and Walt Best have been paying about $200 a year to keep nine embryos stored in a freezer at a fertility clinic at Duke University- embryos that they no longer need, because they are finished having children but that Ms. Best cannot bear to destroy, donate for research or'give away to another couple.
The embryos were created by in vitro fertilization which gave the Bests a set of twins, now 14 years old.
Although the couple who live in Brentwood, Tennessee have known for years that they wanted no more children, deciding what to do with the extra embryos has been a dilemma. He would have discarded, she cannot.
"There is no easy answer." said Ms. Best, a nurse. "I can't took at my twins and not wonder sometimes what the other nine would be like. I will keep them frozen for now. I will search in my heart."
Al least 400,000 embryos are frozen at clinics around the country, with more being added every day, and many people who are done having children are finding it harder than they had ever expected to decide the fate of those embryos.
A new survey of 1,020 fertility patients at nine clinics reveals more than a little discontent with the most common options offered by the clinics. The survey, in which Ms. Best took part, is being published on Thursday in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
Among patients who wanted no more children, 51 percent did not want to donate their embryos to other couples, mostly because they did not want someone else bringing up thier children, or they did not want their own children to worry about encountering an unknown sibling someday.
Forty-three percent did not want the embryos discarded. About 66 pereent said they would be likely to donate the embryos for research, but that option was available at only four of the nine clinics in the survey. Twenty percent said they were likely to keep the embryos frozen forever.
Embryos can remain viable for a decade or more if they are frozen property but not all of them survive when they are thawed.
Smaller numbers of patients wished for solutions that typically are not offered. Among them were holding a small ceremony during the thawing and disposal of the embryos, or having them placed in the woman's body at a time in her cycle when she would probably not become pregnant, so that they would die naturally.
The message from the survey is that patients need more information, earlier in the in vitro process, to let them know that frozen embryos may result and that deciding what to do with them in the future "may be difficult IN WAYS YOU DON'T ANTICIPATE," said Dr. Anne Drapkin Lyerly, the first author of the study and a bioethicist and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University.
Dr. Lyerly also said discussions about the embryos should be "revisited and not happen just at the time of embryo freezing, because people's goals and their way of thinking about embryos change as time passes and they go through infertility treatment."
:Many couples are so desperate to have a child that when eggs are fertilized in the clinic, they want to create as many embryos as possible, to maximize their chances, Dr. Lyerly said. At that time, the notion that there could be too many embryos may seem unimaginable. (In Italy, fertility clinics are not allowed to create more embryos than can be implanted in the uterus at one time, specifically to avoid the ethical quandary posed by frozen embryos.)
In a previous study by Dr. Lyerly, women expressed wide-ranging views about embryos: one called them "just another laboratory specimen," but another said a freezer full of embryos was "like an orphanage. "
Dr. Mark V. Sauer. the director of the Center for Women's Reproductive Care at Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, said: "It's a huge issue and the husband and wife may not be on the same page."
Some people pay storage fees for years and years. Dr. Sauer said, Others stop paying and disappear, leaving the clinic to decide whether to maintain the embryos free or to get rid of them.
"They would rather have YOU pull the trigger on the embryos," Dr. Sauer said. "It's like, 'I don't want to have another baby, but I don't have it in me; I have too much guilt to tell you what to do, to have them discarded.'"
A few patients have asked that extra embryos be given to them, and he cooperates, Dr. Sauer said, adding, "I don't know if they take them home and bury them."
Federal and state regulations have made it increasingly difficult for those who want to donate to other couples, requiring that donors come back to the clinic to be screened for infectious diseases, sometimes at their own expense, Dr. Sauer said.
"It's partly reflected in the attitude of the clinics," he said, explaining that he does not even suggest that people give embryos to other couples anymore, whereas 10 years ago many patients did donate.
Ms. Best said her nine embryos "have the potential to become beautiful people."
The thought of giving them up for research "conjures all sorts of horrors, from Frankenstein to the Holocaust," she said, adding that destroying them would be preferable.
Her teenage daughter favors letting another couple adopt the embryos, but, Ms. Best said, she would worry too much about "what kind of parents they were with, what kind of life they had."
Another survey participant, Lynelle Fowler McDonald, a case manager for a nonprofit social service agency in Durham, N.C., has one embryo frozen at Duke. all that is left of three failed efforts at the fertility clinic.
Given the physical and-emotional stress, and the expense of in vitro fertilization, Ms. McDonald said she did not know whether she and her husband could go through it again. But to get rid of that last embryo would be final, it would mean they were giving it up.
"There is still in the back of my mind this hope," she said.
At the Genetics and IVF institute in Fairfax, VA., Andrew Dorfmann, the chief embryologist, said many patients were genuinely tom about what to do with extra embryos, and that a few had asked to be present to say a prayer when they were thawed and destroyed.
Jacqueline Betancourt, a marketing analyst with a software company who took part in the survey, said she and her husband donated their embryos to science, "whatever that means." It was important to them that the embryos were not just going to be discarded without any use being made of them.
Ms. Betancourt, who has two sons, said, "We didn't ask many questions. We were just comfortable with the idea that they weren't going to be destroyed. We didn't see the point in destroying something that could be useful to science, to other people, to helping other people." [In the course of their being "harvested" for their stem cells the embryos will of course be destroyed].
Ms. Betancourt said she wished there had been more discussion about the extra embryos early in the process. If she had known more, she said, she might have considered creating fewer embryos in the first place.
* * * * *A final comment. the right solution to this dilemma? Listen to the Voice of Christ speaking in His Church and avoid this whole procedure altogether. As Pope Benedict reminds us, children have a right to be born of their parents' natural act of love.